After recently focussing on The Man in the High Castle, we thought it was appropriate to look at the ideas presented in the Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is a classic soft science fiction novel and made our list of science fiction novels everyone should read.
The Lathe of Heaven – Summary
George Orr is a passive fellow with the ability to change reality through his dreams. He’s sentenced to psychiatric help after taking a drug overdose. His doctor is William Haber, a more active and assertive type of person, who realizes George is telling the truth about his dreams. Haber then starts to manipulate George’s dreams for the greater, and his own, good.
Passivity in The Lathe of Heaven
George Orr is content to go with the flow. He doesn’t want to change reality with his dreams and is barely effective when awake. This is in strong contrast with Dr. Haber, who believes that you should always be striving to change and improve the world.
Orr reflects Le Guin’s Taoist beliefs, while Haber represents the flaws in western thinking. This casts Haber as a type of mad scientist, trying to push the boundaries of nature and subvert its purpose. It can be tricky for a western mind to agree with this point. I have to admit that I also initially felt that Orr should try and change the world with his powers.
It was only later that I came to a greater realisation. Although the Lathe of Heaven is played out on a planetary scale, it’s message is much more relevant to the life of an individual. Too much questioning and dissatisfaction with the world is as dangerous as too little. George Orr is capable of accepting the world as it is, and is consequently capable of greater happiness and contentment than the questing Haber.
This is a lesson that most of can usefully dwell on. After all, how many of us can honestly say that we’ve never sacrificed present happiness in the belief that we are working towards a better future? If there is one lesson I will try and take from this novel, it is to be more accepting of the world as it is (and the people in it) and try to find joy in that acceptance.
Heather Lelache – A Most Important Character
There is another very important character that deserves to be discussed: Heather Lelache.
When we first meet Heather she is a fiery lawyer who Orr seeks out to represent him in his dealings with Haber. Her role as the object of Orr’s affections is important from a storytelling point of view as it shows that when something is important he can be active. His love for Heather also humanizes Orr somewhat, stopping him from being too much of an abstraction as a character.
Heather is fiery and active, driven by her passion and her mixed race roots. She shows the counterpoint to the base motivations of Dr. Haber. Like Haber she is active rather than passive. But her actions are of a fundamentally defensive nature. And are grounded in her desire to help those around her. Heather’s character brings much of the humanity into the novel and, without her, Lathe of Heaven would be a much poorer work.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the ideas in this novel, but I hope I’ve given those of you who have read it something to think about. If you still haven’t read the novel (yet have made it to the bottom of this review of it) then I hope I’ve inspired you to hop over to Amazon to buy a copy.
- Lathe of Heaven Review